Exercising Women’s Religious Voice and Authority – Why is this Still an Issue? by Elise M. Edwards

elise-edwardsOver the past few days, I’ve been spending time at a church in Alexandria, Virginia conducting oral history interviews.  I’m doing research for a project about the arts and the church that has me diving deep into the church’s congregants’ and leaders’ experiences. Yesterday’s conversations offered insight about many theological topics that interest me, but what was particularly encouraging was what I witnessed concerning women in ministry.  That’s not what I was looking for, but it is what I needed to see.

Before beginning these interviews, I had already been thinking about the ways women’s authority and voice are often challenged.  This past weekend, I attended a regional religion conference where I assumed a leadership position and my voice was sought out for advice and insight.  I had great conversations with other women in academia about wellness and success while I was there.  Attending the conference provoked fond memories of a similar conference many years ago, when I connected with many colleagues in this FAR community and we discussed the theme of “Women and Authority.” Those were positive experiences.  But I had an unpleasant encounter, too, when I was on the receiving end of a male colleague’s condescending remarks.  I was also made aware of a disturbing incident in which a woman of color was publicly disrespected while speaking at a university event and subsequently trolled.  Those experiences triggered anger and deep sadness. To be honest, I also felt a sense of resignation and defeat.  Patriarchy is just so persistent.

Continue reading “Exercising Women’s Religious Voice and Authority – Why is this Still an Issue? by Elise M. Edwards”

Tall Order by Sarah Kiefer

I saw an interesting headline the other day entitled: “Olympic Gymnast Hits Back at Body-Shaming.” I immediately thought, “Wow not again.” The fact that body-shaming is even an expression is a disheartening commentary on the society we live in today. Women’s bodies have long been the subject of casual objectification in our culture and in the media. The fact that people think it’s ok to comment on a woman’s body, in whatever fashion pleases them, blows my mind. Not only is it disrespectful, but it comes from the problematic way society equates a woman’s worth with her beauty.

People have diverse ideas of beauty, and different cultures value different physical qualities, but this does not mean that those who don’t live up to the ideal should be shamed. In the article, Gymnast Aly Raisman relates an experience at an airport where a female employee recognized her and mentioned one of the reasons was “because of her muscles.” A male colleague then stated “Muscles? I don’t see any muscles” and “continued to stare” making Raisman feel uncomfortable. She then took to twitter to relay the events stating: “I work very hard to be healthy and fit. The fact that a man thinks he can judge my arms pisses me off.  I am so sick of this judgmental generation.” Continue reading “Tall Order by Sarah Kiefer”

Rape, Community and Healing by Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente

During my last months in Cape Town I have been facilitating a series of workshops on Rape, Gender Justice and Culture of Consent. I am blissful for the opportunity to teach and learn with a group of people with whom we have navigated in the approach of Rape and Sexual Assault in their different perspectives, from the socio-political to the intimate tenets.

This has been an exciting journey of healing and soul blooming. I have realized the critical role that Cape Town has played in pushing me towards empowerment and thriving, enhancing my taking back ownership of my body and all the experiences happening through it.

This journey started few years ago when I decided to come out of the closet as a rape survivor. I wrote about it on Feminism and Religion. This was the first step of my breakthrough. Little by little I became confident and shameless about saying: “Yes, I was raped”.

Continue reading “Rape, Community and Healing by Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente”

The Intersections of Faith and Reproductive Justice by Katey Zeh

The Intersections of Faith & Reproductive Justice

Last week I participated in a panel discussion hosted by the Center for American Progress (CAP) on the intersections of faith and reproductive justice. These conversations are critically important, particularly in these political times when threats to our bodily autonomy and right of conscience are sanctioned by our current administration, Congress, and many state legislatures.

The framing of these public discussions is always interesting and somewhat troubling to me. Often progressive spaces like these do recognize that many people of faith support reproductive health care, but with that understanding is the assumption that supporting the full spectrum of reproductive healthcare, including access to safe abortion care, necessitates some kind of moral reckoning for religious people.

Continue reading “The Intersections of Faith and Reproductive Justice by Katey Zeh”

Bikini Season by Sarah Kiefer

I grew up in a suburban town stuck in the middle of rural Indiana. I drove through corn fields to get to school and on more than one occasion I did have to crawl through my sun roof to get into my car because I was sandwiched between two monster trucks. My grandfather, an avid bird watcher, waged a personal war against the chipmunks and within one summer caught and drowned anywhere between fifteen and twenty of them until my mom pointed out that he was probably attracting them by putting bird seed on the ground.

I was raised in the non-denominational Christian church and part of my weekly activities was attending youth group. For those of you not familiar with youth group, it’s usually held on Wednesday night for the youth in the church. It’s basically church geared towards pre-teens and teenagers. Some of my fondest memories of my teen years are from youth group. You foster deep friendships in a fun environment and have good role models all the while learning about the Bible in a way that is more easily understood by a young person.

When I was about thirteen I went to a conference with the rest of the girls in youth group. It was a “modesty conference” geared at teaching young women the “biblical” truth of their role as a female and how that translates into how one dresses. We were taught that we are responsible for the relationship between our brothers in Christ and Jesus. One of the ways that we can make them fall is wearing too revealing clothes. If we wore something too tight, too low, or too short, the men wouldn’t be able to control themselves and would sin in the eyes of Jesus. We were encouraged to wear loose t-shirts and shorts that went to the knee in order to keep our brothers from sinning.

The last night was the long awaited fashion show of the conference and we had all stayed up the night before eagerly finishing the dresses we would be modeling the next day. At the end of the fashion show the lead pastor’s wife came out wearing a bikini. We were all cheering her on because she looked great. She stood at the end of the runway shaking and grabbed the microphone. As she spoke, the mood of the room dramatically shifted. She said she would never wear a bikini in public because her body is for her husband alone and other men looking at her would cause them to sin. The sadness and guilt her voice conveyed sobered all of us. We all vowed we would never wear a bikini again and from here on out it was modest, one piece bathing suits for us.

Looking back at this experience, I recognize quite a few issues I want to address. First, teaching young Christian girls that we are not only responsible for our own relationship with Christ, but also the relationship of all men feels wrong to my spirit and isn’t even biblical. Second, teaching us to be ashamed of our body’s natural shape and covering it in baggy clothing so men won’t sin when they look at us is detrimental to both men and women. The detriment to a young girl’s self-esteem because she has strict guidelines reinforced with guilt around dressing herself leads her to thinking there is something “wrong” or “bad” about her body. This also perpetuates the lack of accountability for men, as they grow up thinking they can’t control their sexual being so they don’t even try, placing the responsibility on women. Why do you think the question “well what was she wearing?” asked in the case of a woman’s rape comes up so often? (This thinking comes from the common misconception that rape is an act of uncontrollable sexual urges, not a man exercising an intentional act of power.) These innocent teachings have further reaching effects on society than we think.

Lastly, I want to address what the pastor’s wife shared with the group, particularly her comment on her body being her husband’s. True, our bodies are not our own, they are a gift from God. 1 Corinthians 6: 19 says “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.” All God asks in return is that we treat our body respectfully. I don’t know about you, but I see nothing in that verse about a woman’s body being owned by a man. A woman’s body is not to be owned by a significant other no matter what their marital status is, just like a man’s body is not to be owned by a significant other. Language of possession and ownership in romantic relationships needs to be struck from the dialogue of Christianity and replaced with the language of respect.

Since I’m not the gatekeeper of heaven and hell I can’t say for sure, but I’m relatively certain if you wore a bikini you won’t be sending three men plus yourself into eternal damnation. With bikini season around the corner, take some time to reflect on the way you view your body. Do you treat it with respect? Do you own it? Do you love your body? Or have you given away that privilege to someone else? I say as a Christian woman, we unburden ourselves of the responsibility for our brother’s sin. We have enough to do. Like bikini shopping.


Sarah is graduating with her undergraduate degree as a psychology major with a pre-law concentration and minor in women’s studies in 2017. She has accepted a full ride scholarship to law school and is expecting to pursue prosecutorial work. Outside of the classroom, she serves as a Resident Assistant, plays on the championship lacrosse team, and also serves as president of Women’s Circle—the feminist student group that she helped to establish and for which she continues to lead discussion and events.

The Difficult Truth: “Terrorists” are also Human by Hanadi Riyad

Hanadi Riyad cropped

This past month Jordan has witnessed a lot of grief, as well as a certain shift in politics and popular opinion regarding Da’esh and the government’s position towards it. On 3 Feb, Da’esh released a video of the immolation of the Jordanian air force pilot Muath al-Kasasbeh.

The ensuing shock, grief, and outrage have only just started to ebb. Immediately after the video release, government officials started issuing statements promising “revenge,” appealing to a largely tribal society where values of revenge and “honor” are defining traits. In a matter of a few hours, a mostly male mass hysteria took hold and demands for “revenge” dominated the streets and the local media.

Chants and slogans about the Jordanian people being “all men” could be heard and seen everywhere including on social media. The only “emotion” present was rage, the only masculine emotion. Hardly any women were present in any of the rallies on that day or after. On social media, Da’esh combatants were called “women” for trying to intimidate the Jordanian forces so as not to have to confront them as “men” would and, conversely, “monsters” and “animals.” Some statements called for the killing of Da’esh “women and children” as well.

Continue reading “The Difficult Truth: “Terrorists” are also Human by Hanadi Riyad”

ISIS and the Larger Muslim Crisis by Hanadi Riyad

Hanadi Riyad croppedIt is heartening to hear the many condemnations Muslim scholars have issued of ISIS and its methods and actions. One of the latest attempts comes in the form of an open letter addressed by a coalition of one hundred and twenty six Muslim “scholars” from across the world to Abu Bakr al Baghdadi and ISIS followers and supporters. The seventeen page letter is one of the most detailed responses to ISIS I have read. However, just like other responses, it fell short of my expectations as a Muslim woman. I checked the list of the signatories and I could not find any women amongst them.

I am saddened to note that the authors of the letter fall into the same mistake they accuse ISIS of: they quote some Quraanic verses and Hadiths selectively, out of context, and portray them as sufficient rebuttal against ISIS actions, never mind the sources, verses, and Hadiths ISIS has been quoting just as selectively to justify its crimes. The letter explains about the methodology of Islamic legal theory (usul al-fiqh) that it stipulates “to consider everything that has been revealed relating to a particular question in its entirety, without depending on only parts of it, and then to judge if one is qualified based on all available scriptural sources.” There’s no explicit logical explanation for why the parts of the scripture and interpretations quoted by the writers of the letter should be given precedence over the ones quoted by ISIS.

The implicit reason, however, resides in the authors’ assertion of their authority as Sunni “scholars”  and their opinion as “a scholarly opinion.” We should take their word because they have the authority that ISIS does not. The assumption that ISIS cannot count amongst its ranks scholars is neither explained nor defended. The doctrinal connection between ISIS and Wahhabi ideology upheld by many Saudi scholars – like ibn Baz and his disciples— goes unacknowledged. Continue reading “ISIS and the Larger Muslim Crisis by Hanadi Riyad”

A Radical Conclusion: We Are Our Own Authorities by Carol P. Christ

Carol Christ in LesbosElisabeth Schussler Fiorenza articulated a widely held tenet of feminist theology when she stated that feminism places a question mark over all inherited texts and traditions. This means that feminists cannot and must not accept any teaching or traditional way of performing religious acts simply because “the Bible [or the Koran or the minister or the priest or the rabbi or the imam or the guru] tells me so.”

Instead, feminists must question every text and tradition and the words of every religious leader to see whether or not they promote the full humanity of women. The implication of this is that we must acknowledge and take responsibility for becoming our own authorities—as individuals and in communities.

A tongue –in-cheek letter that began circulating on the internet in 2000 under the title “Why Can’t I Own a Canadian?” makes the point that even those who claim to be adhering to every “jot and tittle” of the Holy Book are in fact choosing to accept some aspects of tradition while rejecting others. Continue reading “A Radical Conclusion: We Are Our Own Authorities by Carol P. Christ”

Some Friendly Advice for Female Graduate Students by Grace Yia-Hei Kao

I’m officially in “back to school” mode, as I put the finishing touches on my syllabi, get my course websites ready, and prepare my 5-year old son for Kindergarten.

As I think about new graduate students studying theology or ministry, I’m reminded that while women make-up approximately 1/3 of all seminary students nationwide, at the place at which I work  (Claremont School of Theology), they comprise half of the student body.

In honor of all the new, especially female, matriculates (at my school or elsewhere), I’m reposting below one of my first entries on this blogsite. It was entitled “Undermining Our Own Authority.” The advice I gave then still captures what I’d say now.

Continue reading “Some Friendly Advice for Female Graduate Students by Grace Yia-Hei Kao”

Orientations: Body, Space, Authority by Linn Marie Tonstad

Linn Marie TonstadIn her book Queer Phenomenology, Sara Ahmed investigates how we orient ourselves in space with respect to tables – the tables around which we sit, at which we eat with friends and families of choice and birth, and at which we write. She describes moving into a new place and arranging the furniture. “After the kitchen, the room I hope to inhabit is always the study. Or the place that I have decided is the place where I will write. There, that will be my desk. Or it could just be the writing table. It is here that I will gather my thoughts. It is here that I will write, and even write about writing. … Making a place feel like home, or becoming at home in a space, is for me about being at my table. I think fondly of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. How important it is, especially for women, to claim that space, to take up that space through what one does with one’s body. And so when I am at my table, I am also claiming that space, I am becoming a writer by taking up that space.” (11) Ahmed goes on to discuss how certain possibilities are opened up, and others foreclosed, by the way we orient ourselves (or find ourselves oriented) to others and to objects. She describes the bodily postures that result from orienting oneself to the writing table – the way one might hunch over one’s computer, or find oneself with ink-stained fingers.

In a very different context, the queer theologian Marcella Althaus-Reid describes a scene from her childhood in Argentina. She kneels in front of a priest for confession. But instead of kneeling to the side, aslant, as she ‘ought’ to have done, being a girl, she kneels directly in front of the priest, as if she were a boy. Kneeling here too is a form of orientation, a form of direction, a bodily habit of becoming. “Kneeling is troublesome and it has a theological referent in the church’s also troubled waters of sexuality and power. A whole symbolic sexual order is obviously manifested in kneelings as positions of subordination and sites of possible homo- and hetero- seductions, because these are theologically distributed around the axis of the priesthood’s male genitalia. The priest’s penis carries the sacred connotations of the phallus as a transcendental signifier of the theological discourses to everyday Christianity, and kneeling is a liturgical positing designed to centralise and highlight this.” (The Queer God, 11) To kneel in the right (gendered) position in relation to the priest is also to kneel in the right relation to God. Continue reading “Orientations: Body, Space, Authority by Linn Marie Tonstad”

My Feminist Perspective of Authority – Part 2 by Elise M. Edwards

My understanding of authority differs from that of the academy in that I have defined for myself a sense of ultimate purpose that those in power in the institution do not have authority to deny. It also differs because I believe my authority is conditioned in particular ways. Yet I think that ultimately my conception of authority fits the paradigm of mentorship that the academy establishes, even though I may be more guarded about my work and my choice of mentors. My “her-story” gives me the courage to proceed, even as I protect myself and my work.

In a previous post, I discussed insights on power and authority from a student’s perspective that I shared at a workshop on Living Texts: Celebrating Feminist Perspective and Theo/alogy, Authority, and the Sacred in the Academy. The workshop was a gathering where women scholars in religion discussed the challenges and promises of our voices in the academy. The dialogue was so inspiring to me that I decided tocontinue it here. Today, I reflect on these two questions:

  • Does my understanding of authority differ from that of the academy?
  • How do you situate my “her-story” in light of a largely patriarchal perception of authority in the academy?

Previously, I asserted that there is a critical distinction between power and authority. Authority is a personal characteristic based on a relationship of trust between me and a text, a person, or their work. Power, on the other hand, is operative with or without trust. Therefore, the people who have authority in my academic work are those whose supportive words provide direction and assistance, and whose criticism I take seriously.

My understanding of authority differs from that of the academy in that I have defined for myself a sense of ultimate purpose that those in power in the institution do not have authority to deny. Continue reading “My Feminist Perspective of Authority – Part 2 by Elise M. Edwards”

My Feminist Perspective of Authority – Part 1 by Elise M. Edwards

I make a distinction between power and authority.  Authority is a personal characteristic based on a relationship of trust between me and a text, a person, or their work.  Power, on the other hand, is operative with or without trust.

This past weekend, I had the honor of participating in a workshop on Living Texts: Celebrating Feminist Perspective and Theo/alogy, Authority, and the Sacred in the Academy.  The workshop was organized for the Women’s Caucus of WECSOR, a regional association of national organizations who study religion.  I was delighted to connect with new friends, mentors and sisters interested in feminism and religion, including some of my co-contributors on this site –Theresa Yugar, Sara Frykenberg, and Corinna Guerrero .  There were two panels that shared our reflections about authority from either student perspectives or diverse professional perspectives.  I shared my experiences as a student.  This workshop was a gathering where women scholars in religion could discuss the challenges and promises of our voices in the academy.  Because our dialogue was so inspiring to me, I thought I’d continue the discussion here. Continue reading “My Feminist Perspective of Authority – Part 1 by Elise M. Edwards”

Undermining Our Own Authority by Grace Yia-Hei Kao

“I’ll be the first to admit that it can be difficult, if not exhausting, for women professionals to discern how to be strong and assertive (and thus be taken seriously) without coming across as arrogant or b*tchy. But there is indeed room for play between over-deference and cockiness, and the ability to code-switch while in formal settings would be a good step in the right direction for many of us.”

Whatever your take is on Madonna’s feminist bona fides, she was definitely on to something in her 2001 hit “What it Feels Like For a Girl.”  Madonna sang about the tremendous pressures females of all ages face to conform to gendered norms of physical appearance and demeanor. I want to use her lyrics to discuss some ways I have seen young women in academe subtly undermine their own authority.

Continue reading “Undermining Our Own Authority by Grace Yia-Hei Kao”

Infantilizing Women, Sexualizing Girls By Grace Yia-Hei Kao

Continue reading “Infantilizing Women, Sexualizing Girls By Grace Yia-Hei Kao”

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